Recently, fellow TP writer Aja Frost expressed her views on “the college campus health obsession”. I encourage those Prospies who haven’t read it yet to do so before continuing on. In any case, I’ll try to summarize it in a few points:
- It’s frustrating that people in college are trapped in the ‘diet culture’ mentality.
- There are topics ‘worthier of our brain cells’ than physical health.
- There’s a culture of competition in who works out harder and longer.
- This “health thing” is actually unhealthy.
- The solution is to stop talking about health because there are more important things to talk about, and
- Working on physical health isn’t a problem; ‘obsessing’ over it is.
As someone who has recently lived an entirely different (and improved) lifestyle for the past three months, I disagree. Ending my sophomore year in college on May 9, I was stick thin at 80 pounds, almost looking sickly. I was having cheeseburgers, macaroni and cheese, and Starbucks every day. I couldn’t walk ten minutes to class without feeling faint. Approaching my junior year in a few weeks, I’m now 84 pounds with more muscle than I’ve ever seen on myself. I have fruit smoothies, protein bars, and spinach on my bagels. I work out almost two hours a day, six days a week. I have never felt better. I’ve stopped feeling disgusted looking at myself in the mirror. I’ve also been caught flexing in the mirror on more than one (or twelve) occasion.
I’ll be responding to Aja’s article using the same points I listed above.
It’s frustrating that people in college are trapped in the ‘diet culture’ mentality.
There is no denying that a diet culture exists. Books and magazines splay claims in caps lock on their covers: “MIRACLE DIET. HOW I LOST 30 POUNDS. DIETS THAT REALLY WORK. FLAT STOMACH IN 10 MINUTES.” It can be terribly unhealthy to go on fad or crash diets. But ‘critiquing the size of one’s thighs’ or ‘fat in one’s Frappe’ isn’t necessarily a red flag for dangerous diet culture mentality. At its worst: yes, when the size of one’s thighs or Frappe composition becomes an all-consuming fixation, there’s a problem.
But at its most innocent, I see it as being attentive to one’s body and diet (in the denotative sense of the word: what a person eats). And that’s good. One can see their thighs as a part of their body to improve, not an affliction. Analyzing the amount of fat in a Frappe is helpful too; those things are not water. There are a lot of extra and unnatural ingredients in coffee drinks. Taking into considering food composition is important in improving eating habits.
There are topics ‘worthier of our brain cells’ than physical health.
I cannot stress enough: health and fitness are extremely important. It would be a mistake to diminish the importance of optimizing the health of the only body you will ever possess. I’ve come across this quote countless times: “If you don’t take care of your body…where else are you going to live?” Not coincidentally, these brain cells that would be thinking about other “worthier” topics are kept alive by health choices.
Yes, immigration and student loans are also extremely important. But so is taking the time to care for your body. This is an extreme (and possibly offensive) example, but it’s like pulling the ‘starving children in a third-world country’ card. There will always be bigger problems, but people will prioritize what’s important to them, whether it’s immigration laws or being able to bench their own body weight. It’s up to everyone else to respect that they have those priorities.
There’s a culture of competition in who works out harder and longer.
Of course! It’s natural. When you’re surrounded by machines and free weights numbers matter, and these numbers are relative to other numbers. I squat 30-pound dumbbells (because I have no squat rack at home). I follow girls on Instagram squatting over 100 pounds. By comparison, I’m weak.
It’s a competition in the sense of having something like the following attitude: “I lift heavy. I went from 135-pound deadlift to 350. I got stronger. I’m proud of my work.” That’s why fitness transformation pictures exist. Not to make others feel bad or lazy. When I scroll through #TransformationTuesday, I’m inspired. I never think, “Ugh, why do they keep talking about their fitness progress?” I’m thinking, “I want to lift heavy like her. I want hard thighs and huge arms.” It’s all perception.
This “health thing” is actually unhealthy.
I do not know Aja’s campus fitness atmosphere. I barely even know that of mine. But I would not say that the anecdotes provided in Aja’s article are characteristic of eating disorders. To me, they seem like casual comments on body/nutrition awareness. Excessive exercise is problematic. So are diets demanding a caloric intake of any fewer than 1200 calories. Talking about cardiovascular health is not problematic. Neither is expressing a desire to work on one’s body.
The solution is to stop talking about health because there are more important things to talk about.
Again, the ‘starving children in a third-world country’ card: there will always be bigger problems, more productive conversations. If you spent a month in Greece or complete the 50 book challenge every year, talk about it. If you hit a new PR on squats or found the yummiest protein bar that morning, talk about it. What’s important to you is worth discussion.
The number of calories in a cupcake is important to me. I track my caloric and macronutrient intake to ensure I am following the caloric deficit or surplus appropriate for my fitness goals. Three pounds is important to me. If I’ve lost it, my deficit is working. If i’ve gained it, my surplus is working.
There’s a difference being “transforming the dialogue” about health, and shutting it down. Shutting it down isn’t healthy. A health obsession is destructive. A healthy lifestyle can be the most productive improvement one makes in their life. Both the obsession and lifestyle are worth discussion and we gain nothing from refusing to address either. (We also lose quite a bit more than three pounds by doing so.)